By / Oct 24

Recently the Mega Millions lottery jackpot was $1.6 billion. Prior to the drawing on Tuesday, anyone who played had a roughly 1 in 292,000,000 chance of winning. Ludicrously slim odds. So slim, according to one mathematician, if someone were to place a penny somewhere on a football field and then blindfolded you and asked you to place a penny in the exact same place, you would be 15 times more likely to place your penny on the penny already on the field. Like I said, astonishing odds.

But the human race is full of irrational optimists. Some who have never even played a lottery in their life will cave to the intrigue of winning that record-setting pot. The “just maybe” appeal is irresistible.

Gambling has enriched no one’s life. The promise of unearned reward preys on what appears to be an insatiable human penchant for risk and suspense. Even its winners are really losers. Its appeal is won only through elaborate and sinister deceptions. Those who gamble on a regular basis never come remotely close to breaking even. Even those who win big end up losing. Approximately three in four jackpot winners file for bankruptcy within five years. So, it comes as no surprise that many who win big and then lose it all look back on their time of sudden wealth with tragic regret.

Most moral appraisals of gambling tend to focus on the relative irresponsibility or impudence of lotto players, but I want to offer a different claim. The culpability for the perils of the lottery system lays more so on the state authorities who knowingly allow for gambling programs to exploit the poor. State-sponsored gambling is, statistically speaking, a de facto poor tax. It is continued only because lawmakers cannot bear to make harder fiscal decisions to raise taxes or cut programs.

According to a 2012 study, a full 61 percent of all lottery players are from the bottom fifth socio-economic bracket. The majority of lottery tickets are purchased in low income neighborhoods. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans believe winning the lottery is the only way to secure significant savings or retirement. This is not to suggest, of course, that those in higher socio-economic brackets do not play lottery—around 40 percent do. However, higher earners tend to have more expendable income and likewise do not plan their financial future around the prospect of winning the lottery. State officials have been aware of this socio-economic disparity for quite some time.

This sort of targeted exploitation of the poor is directly condemned in Scripture. “Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him,” warns the prophet Jeremiah (22:3). And a similar imperative is given in Proverbs: “Don’t take advantage of the poor just because you can (22:22a), for whoever oppresses a poor man insults his maker “(14:31). Elsewhere in Proverbs, the imperative is put with chilling directness, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered” (21:13). And it is in light of these, and still other forceful commands, that we must take John’s question with absolute seriousness: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him” (1 John 3:17)?

The church, therefore, must object to the lottery system’s deliberate exploitation of the poor. There are better, more equitable means of raising revenues for state budgets. Whether the poor would gamble anyway is irrelevant. The poor would not be encouraged to take defeating personal risks as they are currently if there was no state-sanctioned lottery. Crucially, the poor would not be speculating on lottery cards in the first place if they were not poor, and thus the cunning of the lottery system is cast in even starker relief: its legitimacy as a program depends entirely on perpetuating acute poverty. In other words, although the stated purpose of state-sponsored lottery is to enrich lucky winners, the actual purpose is expropriation. Lottery promises the poor a golden ladder out of poverty but always at the cost of further poverty.

I do not suppose to speak for the whole of Christ’s church, but with what little force I myself can lend to the claim, I wish to call for the abolition of all state-sanctioned gambling. I realize the near-futility of doing so. State budgets are now greatly dependent on lottery revenues. I get it. But this is an obvious case of the means not justifying the ends, just as it is an obvious case of rejecting God’s command to care for the poor. Authorities must own to the fact that state-sponsored gambling was designed to oppress the poor through cunning expropriation. As a result, I call for abolition of state-sponsored gambling not because I think it is likely, but because God has made known his heart for the poor. And one day, all of us will give an account.

By / Oct 31

From the 1800s to the mid 20th century, government-run lotteries in America were not only recognized as immoral but were banned in every state. That changed in 1964 when New Hampshire—a state without an income tax—reinstituted a state lottery. Over the next 50 years, 43 more U.S. states and three territories (the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) would legalize state-run gambling operations to pay for government programs.

Mississippi is one of only six states that do not have lotteries—but that may soon change. In 1992 Mississippi voters removed the prohibition on lotteries from the state’s constitution, and earlier this year the state legislature appointed a study committee to examine the issue. A bill proposing to implement a state lottery is expected in the 2018 session.

In the 1830s, evangelicals lead the way in opposing state lotteries. From 1844 to 1859, 10 new state constitutions contained lottery bans, and by 1890, lotteries were prohibited in every state except Delaware and Louisiana. Today, though, evangelicals—including Southern Baptists—are often leading the way in reinstituting state-run lotteries.

“I’m a Baptist. You know us Baptists don’t believe in gambling . . . ” said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood this summer. “But I have to be a realist. The Legislature is not passing any revenue [tax increase]. That [lottery revenue] is money available for education—should be spent on education.”

Lotteries are predatory gambling that exploit our poorest citizens.

When it comes to economic and political issues, there are many areas on which Christians can legitimately disagree. But one area where the Bible is clear is that we must oppose the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the powerful. That is exactly why we must reject rationalizations about lottery financing: State-sponsored lotteries use government power to support a type of predatory gambling that exploits our poorest citizens.

Taking from the poor to give to the middle class

In 2013 lawmakers in North Carolina proposed making it illegal for lottery ticket merchants to knowingly sell a lottery ticket to a person on government welfare. At the time, Rep. Paul Stam said, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

The irony is that taking money from those who need government assistance to pay for government programs like education is a not a glitch in the system but a primary function of state lotteries. The middle class and the wealthy may occasionally buy lottery tickets, but the revenue they bring in is not enough to make state lotteries economically viable. To make enough money to pay for the lottery and to bring in additional revenue the state needs to rely on poor people to spend a disproportionate share of their income on lottery tickets.

“The state lottery is a tax, which is to say it is forced wealth redistribution,” says economist Mark Thornton. “The lottery tax is regressive. It takes a higher percentage of a poor man’s wages than a rich man's. Every study has shown this to be the case and there has not been one published study that contradicts this finding.”

An example of what Thornton is referring to is a 2008 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis on the relationship between income and lottery revenue. That study found that a large portion of lottery profits come from people who receive some financial subsidy from the government. Other studies have found that people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year, and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

“A person making $20,000 spends three times as much on lottery tickets on average than does someone making $30,000,” says Jordan Ballor. “And keep in mind that these numbers represent average spending. For every one or two people who spend just a few bucks a year on lotteries, others spend thousands,” Ballor adds.

All of this is taking place in a system of legalized gambling that is monopolized and promoted by those in political power. Where state governments are supposed to be looking after the welfare of their citizenry, the commonwealth of all the people, the establishment of a lottery has in fact betrayed the citizenry.

What begins as a well-intentioned plan to provide for the needs of the people—education funding, for example—very often becomes just another source of revenue for a voracious state treasury. Lotto revenue is often diverted for new purposes through legislative and bureaucratic chicanery.

State-sponsored plundering of the poor

That the individual states establish predatory gambling is disturbing. Yet they compound the evil by promoting the lottery as a way for those with limited resources to secure their financial future. Unfortunately, many of our poorest citizens believe this exploitative advertising. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth.

“Normally government would outlaw a business that offered such outrageously bad odds to its customers and it would tax away such ‘obscene profits’ but in this case it advertises the lottery as a way that everyone can get rich,” says Thornton. “This is a good lesson about government for the many among us who feel that the government is suppose to protect us from such deceit and plundering.”

I agree with Attorney General Hood and other Christian politicians who claim we must be “realists.” But the reality is state lotteries are a form of predatory gambling. Governments should be protecting the poor rather than exploiting them to fill the tax coffers. As Bob Terry has observed, a state-sponsored lottery is one of the cruelest and most callous proposals a state legislature can make.

Any politician who isn’t aware that state lotteries are a progressive tax on the poor simply hasn’t done their homework. And any politician who supports them knowing how they oppress the poor should remember they are showing contempt for our Maker (Prov. 17:5a).

By / Jan 14

What does it mean to be hungry in America? And how do we solve the issue of domestic hunger?

To answer those questions, Congress created the bipartisan National Commission on Hunger, a group tasked with providing “policy recommendations to Congress and the USDA Secretary to more effectively use existing programs and funds of the Department of Agriculture to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity.”

The commission recently released a report on their findings and recommendations. According to the executive summary, “ This report is based on the commission members’ full agreement that hunger cannot be solved by food alone, nor by government efforts alone. The solutions to hunger require a stronger economy, robust community engagement, corporate partnerships, and greater personal responsibility, as well as strong government programs.”

One of the key decisions the commission had to make was an agreement on how to define hunger. They chose a readily available measure of hunger called very low food security, which occurs when eating patterns are disrupted or food intake is reduced for at least one household member because the household lacked money and other resources for food.

For purposes of this report, hunger means the lack of access to food when families do not have enough money, causing them to cut the size, quality, or frequency of their meals throughout the year. We wish to be very clear that hunger in America is not the same as famine and the resulting malnutrition seen in developing countries.

By this standard, 5.6 percent of households—6 million Americans—experienced hunger in 2014, for an average of about 7 months.

The commission identified 6 root causes of hunger:

Labor Market Forces and Job Availability — “The number of households experiencing hunger is sensitive to economic forces.”

Family Structure — “Marriage has a significant impact on whether or not a household will experience hunger: Households with an unmarried head of household are more likely to face hunger than other households in America.”

Education — “U.S. high school graduation rates have improved, with the national graduation rate exceeding 80% in 2012 for the first time in U.S. history; however, economic, racial, cultural, and ethnic differences remain.”

Exposure to Violence — “Research over the last 10 years has found that victims of violence, neglect, or abuse as a child or violence as an adult, are more likely to report hunger.”

Historical Context – “There are significant racial, ethnic, and gender disparities between households that report hunger and those that do not.”

Personal Responsibility — “Although we feel that our nation would make progress in reducing hunger if we made gains in each of the factors above, we also acknowledge one other key ingredient—the actions of individuals.”

The commission also made recommendations in six areas to comprise a total of 20 specific recommendations to Congress and the USDA.

I. Make improvements to SNAP (10 recommendations in three categories: work, nutrition, and wellbeing)

II. Make improvements to child nutrition programs (4 recommendations)

III. Improve nutrition assistance options for people who are disabled or medically at risk (2 recommendations)

IV. Fund pilot programs to test the effectiveness of strategic interventions to reduce and eliminate hunger (1 recommendation; 4 pilots)

V. Incentivize and expand corporate, nonprofit, and public partnerships to address hunger in civil society (1 recommendation)

VI. Create a White House Leadership Council to End Hunger that includes participation by a broad group of government and non-government stakeholders (2 recommendations).

In their conclusion, the commission notes that “there is another aspect of personal responsibility at work: personal responsibility extends to all. Everyone can take direct actions to reduce hunger.”

“Each of us should extend compassion for and help to our neighbors and get involved in hunger relief efforts in our communities,” says the report. “We need more of that kind of personal responsibility, too. With it, we will end hunger in the United States.”

To learn more about how you can help end hunger, in America and around the world, visit Global Hunger Relief.

By / Jan 8

No one won this week’s Powerball jackpot, which means the jackpot will roll over to an estimated $675 million — the largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

According to the Associated Press, Powerball is played in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. But who is funding the game?

Public polling has confirmed the fears of many who oppose such government-promoted gambling: the poorest among us are contributing much more to lottery revenues than those with higher incomes. One poll found that people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.

The significance of this is magnified when we look deeper into the figures. Those with annual incomes ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 had the second-highest average — $24 per month, or $288 per year. A person making $20,000 spends three times as much on lottery tickets on average than does someone making $30,000. And keep in mind that these numbers represent average spending. For every one or two people who spend just a few bucks a year on lotteries, others spend thousands.

All of this is taking place in a system of legalized gambling that is monopolized and promoted by those in political power. Where state governments are supposed to be looking after the welfare of their citizenry, the commonwealth of all the people, the establishment of a lottery has in fact betrayed the citizenry.

What begins as a well-intentioned plan to provide for the needs of the people – education funding for example – very often becomes just another source of revenue for a voracious state treasury. Lotto revenue is often diverted for new purposes through legislative and bureaucratic chicanery.

The highly promotional nature of state lotteries becomes clear as they bombard us with advertising in every available medium. When jackpots like Powerball get particularly large the media blitz becomes a frenzy, as the government-run lotteries attempt to dazzle us into the twenty-first century form of “gold fever.” In a previous multi-state Mega Millions lottery, Michigan officials tempted players with the promise of “$24,300 per day!” in a press release that described winning the jackpot as “a pretty nice payday.” In this way, state lottery boards and commissions “come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NIV).

The effectiveness of such media campaigns is apparent from the polls and surveys on lotto spending. Among the lowest-income bracket, 62 percent of those who purchased lottery tickets in the past year denied having participated in legal gambling. In other words, the government has managed to convince many of us that lotteries are not indeed gambling but rather a form of civic duty, a valid and even commendable form of public service. This is evident in such rhetorically benign mottos as, “Benefiting All Rhode Islanders Since 1974,” “It's Only a Game” (Montana), and “Odds Are, You'll Have Fun” (Ohio).

Certainly when Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” (Mark 14:7 NIV) he meant it as a description of the inevitable result of human sin and social evil. Such evil is exemplified well in the case of state lotteries, which have effectively codified Jesus' statement into an institutional goal.

By / Jun 15

I have never missed a meal due to lack of access or finances. My almost perfect American childhood was full of hot suppers at the kitchen table, banana pudding at Grandma’s and Happy Meals. In my seven years of marriage, my husband and I have never even known unemployment. And judging by my baby’s chunk feet, no one is hungry in this house. It’s so easy to think this is the life experienced by everyone else. Most of us are pretty good at surrounding ourselves with people who are just like us and, honestly, are happy to keep it that way.

Yet, when I get glimpses into the realities for most people around the world and many in the United States—into their poverty, their hardships, their lostness—I am overwhelmed. Lately, the images and stories coming out of Nepal, where 2.8 million people have been displaced after the recent catastrophic earthquakes, cause me to feel helpless, saddened, guilty, but also thankful. Not thankful for my possessions and lack of suffering, although I am, but thankful because it snaps me out of my self-focused, small, middle-class American life for just a minute.

I am thankful for the stories shared by places like Baptist Global Response (BGR), IMB and NAMB. These stories show the devastation following crises, but more importantly, they show the hope of Jesus provided by those who serve faithfully in difficult times. South Asian people hear “with their eyes” the love of Christ during earthquake recovery. BGR workers delivered bags of rice to a forgotten village.

These stories call me to see the world as it is, to see with God’s eyes and God’s heart, and ask how I can help. If God is the giver of all of my good gifts, how can I honor him in how I use them? How can he use me to meet the needs of someone so different and so far away? While I spend my days feeding little people, how can I feed someone who is truly hungry?

For over four decades, Southern Baptists agencies have partnered together to feed the hungry around the world through an initiative now known as Global Hunger Relief (GHR). Because this ministry is done by our missionaries and church planters, every GHR project shares the gospel in both word and deed. One-hundred percent of every gift given to GHR goes directly to meeting hunger needs with no administrative or promotional costs.

Even though, today, God has called me to raise my babies and make disciples in East Tennessee, I am thankful I can partner with my brothers and sisters and make an impact around the world. Even when my world is small, and I’m talking a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old small, God can use my dollars to do amazing, life-changing work through Global Hunger Relief.

Watch this video for an update on GHR’s work in Nepal: 

By / May 27

Republican State Sen. Del Marsh introduced what has to be the worst piece of gambling-related legislation in the history of Alabama in early May. Marsh, who is president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, flip-flopped on what observers thought were principled stands against legalized gambling and became its chief proponent. 
 
More importantly, Marsh is using the power of his office to lead efforts to have Alabama legalize a state lottery, approve full-blown casinos and form a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that would make American Indian gambling activities a permanent part of state life. 
 
Any one of these proposals is controversial by itself. That all would be considered at the same time would have been inconceivable until Marsh’s surprising and disappointing announcement. 
 
The catalyst for the proposal is Alabama’s economic crunch. State government is underfunded and has been for years. The Legislature has filled the income gap with borrowing and one-time funds, but those sources have been exhausted. 
 
With no other place to turn Gov. Robert Bentley proposed increasing certain taxes but Marsh and other legislators are so scared of any new taxes that the governor’s proposals could not even get a committee hearing until the legislative session was more than half over. 
 
Financial burden
 
Instead Marsh and others purpose gambling as the fix for the revenue shortfall. They would prefer to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to pay rather than adopt a fair and just tax system. Lotteries place the financial burden on the backs of poor and working class people rather than on capital and corporations. 
 
Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston points out that 11 states already raise more money per person through lotteries than they raise through corporate income taxes. That is not the direction Alabama should go. 
 
Economist Richard D. Wolff added, “Simply put, lotteries take the most from those who can least afford it. Instead of taking those most able to pay, state leaders use lotteries to disguise a regressive tax that falls on the middle and even more on the poor.” 
 
For example Lenoir County, N.C., is one of that state’s more economically depressed areas with 23.5 percent of the population living under the poverty line. Yet in 2010 enough scratch-off and lottery tickets were sold to account for $423.92 worth of purchases for every adult in the county. That is more than twice the state average of $200.11. 
 
The California Budget Project reported that in 2007 “the poor, nonwhite, urban and less educated spend a higher portion of their income on the lottery than other demographics.” 
 
A 2008 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found “a large portion of lottery profits come from people who receive some financial subsidy from the government, suggesting the lottery profits from those with the least disposable income.” 
 
One out of 4 children in Alabama already live in food insecure homes. One in five seniors in our state is food insecure. Poverty is above the national average. Surely the state Legislature can find a better policy to solve the state’s financial woes than to prey on these people. 
 
A state-sponsored lottery is one of the cruelest and most callous proposals the Legislature could make. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth. Perhaps that is why David Just, behavioral economics expert and director of graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said, “We find there are big jumps in lottery purchases when the poverty rate increases, when unemployment increases or when people enroll (in) welfare.” 
 
Unlikely odds
 
When the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot, according to The Mathematical Association of America, is one in 175 million, is that what state government should be promoting?
 
Should state government be like a sideshow huckster trying to separate hard-earned paychecks from its citizens? Should Alabama’s government encourage get-rich-quick schemes over the proven disciplines of work, thrift and responsibility? 
 
And what could be more callous than the state’s powerful decision makers purposely manipulating the vulnerable of society in order to avoid having to shoulder a fair and just portion of the expense of government? 
 
The casino proposal is equally misguided. Casino gambling cannibalizes the economy. That is because casinos divert spending that would have gone to buy cars, clothes, food and other goods and services. 
 
A year ago when the New Hampshire Legislature rejected building a casino in the Granite State, Paul Davies, the Maggie Walker fellow at the Institute for American Values, said, “Public policy built around inducing residents to gamble away their hard-earned money is a bad way to fund the government.” We agree.
 
Promises of gambling income are always exaggerated. In 2009, Ohio residents were told four proposed casinos would generate $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue for the state. The actual revenue for the first year was $839 million — off by more than $1 billion. That is a big “oops.”
 
That says nothing about the social problems ranging from increased criminal activity to suicides. In Gulfport, Miss., suicides skyrocketed 213 percent in the first two years after casinos opened there. In nearby Biloxi, suicides increased 1,000 percent in the first year alone. 
 
Why would Alabama want to start something that is declining nationwide? In Atlantic City gambling revenues are down more than 47 percent since 2006. Casinos are closing. Others are filing bankruptcy. In Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Louisiana and other places the reports are the same — gambling revenue is declining with no stop in sight.
 
Marsh’s bill also places new casinos at the Birmingham Race Course, VictoryLand in Shorter, Greenetrack in Eutaw and the Mobile Greyhound Park. At least three of these facilities have been convicted of breaking Alabama gambling laws, some multiple times. Why would the state reward these lawbreakers with a casino site even if the proposal were adopted? Rewarding lawbreakers with casinos would be the wrong signal to send about the results of illegal conduct.
 
Sen. Marsh’s proposals are based on flawed economics. They are based on bad public policies and are unworthy of responsible legislative leadership like he has provided in the past. Senate Bill 453 embodies values contrary to the Christian faith. This bill is a threat to the welfare of the state of Alabama and should be soundly defeated.

Originally published here.

By / Dec 15

In a post-Christian culture such as ours, it’s easy to see society as comprised of two classes: believers and non-believers. There is no doubt that our culture is being shaped more and more by non-believers. Accordingly, we believers expend much energy and spill much ink in our efforts to keep the forces of secularism at bay.

But perhaps the best way to stem secularism is to help Christians bloom.

Reforming the rich and fashionable

In such an approach, we can take a lesson from the British reformer Hannah More (1745-1833). She too lived in a world divided into two classes, in this case, rich and poor. While More sought to help and lift the poor, her greatest efforts at reform were aimed at the rich and fashionable. Few in More’s lifetime thought to improve society as a whole by reforming the upper class first. But More did. “Reformation must begin with the GREAT, or it will never be effectual,” she wrote, continuing:

Their example is the fountain whence the vulgar draw their habits, actions, and characters. To expect to reform the poor while the opulent are corrupt, is to throw odours into the stream while the springs are poisoned.

While this idea of the responsibility of the upper classes to set the example for the rest of society would become a defining characteristic of the later Victorian age (to the point of being later satirized, famously, by Oscar Wilde in works such as The Importance of Being Earnest), it was an embryonic idea in More’s time. The prevailing notion was expressed by one popular clergyman who  told the aristocratic members of his congregation that they were not expected to uphold high standards of virtuous behavior because they could make up for such lapses with generous charitable giving. More was infuriated. She did not believe that there was one standard for the rich and another for the poor. How could one expect the lessons in pious, responsible living she brought to the poor to have any lasting effect when every day their “betters” acted worse? She became convinced that the most powerful reforms of society would come from reforming the powerful.

Challenging the lifestyles of the rich and famous

In 1788 More published her Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society. By “manners,” of course, More was talking about more than mere politeness and table etiquette: she meant morality. Manners were understood to be more than mere surface matters; outward manners expressed and helped shape the inward spirit. The book challenged the very lifestyles of the rich and famous of eighteenth century Georgian England. Then, as now, the habits and values of those in the most elevated positions of society were on display for all to see, whether they wished for this or not; thereby setting the example, whether for good or ill, they set the example. Thoughts on the Manners of the Great served as an expose of the habits of the fashionable, not by uncovering what was unknown, but rather by holding up a mirror by which the powerful might see themselves.

A common excuse for impiety among the fashionable—who tended still to claim a nominal Christianity in those days—was the desire to avoid religious extremism. But More wasn’t buying it: "'We must take the world,’ say they, ‘as we find it; reformation is not our business; and we are commanded not to be righteous overmuch’,” she explained. “But,” More countered, “these admonitions are contrary to every maxim in human affairs. In arts and letters the most consummate models are held out to imitation. We never hear any body cautioned against becoming too wise, too learned, or too rich.” Besides, More argued, the risk of extreme piety among the fashionable was but a phantom. Indeed, “he who declaims against religious excesses in the company of well-bred people, shews himself to be as little acquainted with the manners of the times in which he lives, as he would do who should think it a point of duty to write another Don Quixote.”

Yet, More cautioned against excess in the other direction as well. A great impediment to the embrace of religion, More argued, “that garment of sadness in which people delight to suppose her dressed; and that life of hard austerity, and pining abstinence, which they pretend she enjoins her disciples.” The “mischief,” she wrote, “arises not from our living in the world, but from the world living in us; occupying our hearts, and monopolizing our affections.”

Thoughts on the Manners of the Great was a striking success, particularly considering the unpopularity of the subject. The first edition of Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great sold out like ice in a sweltering heat; the third edition sold out within hours; seven editions were published within three months. At least one of More’s contemporaries claimed that the book resulted in “the abandonment of many of the customs which it attacked." In a sweet irony, this book calling for high morality among the fashionable itself became fashionable.

Christians today might take a page from More’s book. Just as More argued that the most powerful way to change society was to change the powerful, so, too, the influence of Christianity in our culture might be strengthened most by strengthening Christians.

Excerpted and adapted from Karen Swallow Prior's book Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More— Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.

By / Sep 18

Gambling is one of the most lucrative vices in America. Casinos earn approximately $125 billion in revenue each year as the average American loses almost $400 per year to gambling. In preparation for Anti-Gambling Sunday (September 21), here are five facts you should know about gambling in America:

1. In 2012, there were an estimated 5.77 million disordered gamblers in the U.S. in need of treatment. Of this number, 10,387 individuals were treated in U.S. state-funded problem gambling treatment programs. These figures suggest that in 2012 state-funded treatment was provided to less than one quarter of one percent (0.18 percent) of those in need.

2. Legalized gambling is available in every state except for Utah and Hawaii. This includes state lotteries, which are in 42 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. Lotteries were illegal for most of the 20th century, but that changed in 1964 when New Hampshire—a state without an income tax— reinstituted a state lottery. In 2008, during the height of the recession, at least 22 of the 42 states with lotteries set sales records.

3. A large-scale study in 2004 also found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not. Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade.

4. According to one study, 27.1 percent of gamblers who reported spending over 5 percent of their gross family income monthly, also report experiencing serious problems because of their gambling habit, including health problems, high debts, financial issues, or guilt and other negative emotions. Another study of members of Gamblers Anonymous found that upwards of 26 percent have gambling-related divorces or separations.

5. Approximately 4-6 percent of high school students are addicted to gambling, and another 10-14 percent are at risk of developing an addiction, which means that they already show signs of losing control over their gambling behavior.
Other Articles in the 5 Facts Series:

Truett Cathy • Hunger in America • Suicide in America • Christian PersecutionSupreme Court’s contraceptive mandate decision • Fathers and Fathers Day • Euthanasia in Europe • Marriage in America • March for Life • Abortion in America • ‘War on Poverty’

By / Sep 2

We’ve all heard the popular teaching of Joel Osteen and the promises of the “health and wealth gospel.” Preachers on television are promising us that God wants us to be happy, healthy and rich. The level of faith that we have directly parallels our financial and personal success. The Prayer of Jabez, after all, is an example of praying for our own personal prosperity and God blessed him and called him righteous, right?

The opposite extreme sprinkled throughout evangelicalism today looks at the church in large. They consider the persecuted church, they examine revivals, history, and the overall nature of the church to say that no, Jesus is not concerned with making us rich, but that he wants us to give to the poor and to live a simple life. Ultimately they become various levels of ascetics.

Does Jesus want us to be rich? Or does Jesus want us to be poor?

We are called to be stewards.  

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12.47-48).

This passage is extremely familiar. Surprisingly, however, it is speaking about actions and not finances. It is a principle that applies over and onto finances, but God is concerned about our hearts. Jesus himself said that all of the Law was summed up in these two: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). If we love God above all else, then our talents, our time and our finances will be spent to his glory and honor. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we help meet their needs, we put them above ourselves and glorify God with our time, energy and finances.

Paul makes the very clear assessment of our abilities (which again, applies to finances): “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

But most fundamentally we all know that “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything it contains” (1 Cor. 10:26).

It all belongs to God. Everything. Including money. So whatever you have – gifts, talents, finances, freedom, jobs, family – it is all God’s. And he has allowed us to use it for a season. We are stewards of his belongings.

For my ascetic friends, I would like to point out the fact that many of our forefathers were among the richest men who ever lived. Solomon was worth, in today’s dollar, approximately 100 billion dollars. That is substantially more than Bill Gates’ worth. David, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and many others were granted physical and financial wealth in the roles that God gave them.

For my rich friends, I would like to point out the fact that the very humility exemplified by the creator of the universe was to leave the throne of glory and come to Earth, living without even a place to lay his head. He kept minimal possessions and when he sent the disciples out to serve him, they were to rely on the hospitality of others for their sustenance.

Our responsibility is stewardship of what God has given us. When we consider our finances, let’s ask this simple question, “Is God glorified in this?” When you stand before God on Judgment Day, will you be ashamed of how you spent your money and time? Will you be proud of the toys, clothes, house and other comforts that you bought? Or will you know that you gave sacrificially to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and put one another’s needs above your own? Will you look back and find that your finances served God or you?

I used to wrestle with giving money to beggars. I always wondered for what they would use the money. But one day I realized that God would hold him accountable for how he used the help that he received. He would only hold me accountable for my willingness to help. I am confident that I will not stand before him and he say, “You should not have given that money to that beggar. You should have bought a new shirt with it instead.” Now, if God has given you the mind and ability to help the homeless establish themselves in jobs and fight addictions such that they are able to feed themselves, and all you do is throw a $20 in their cup, there might be something to answer for. But that is between you and God.

Jesus was comfortable with a woman pouring out extremely expensive perfume on his feet. There are times for extravagance in the worship of almighty God. Jesus does not say that to follow him we must be poor. In fact, he says that we are to care for the poor. So we must be stable enough to be able to give in order to care for the poor.

It’s about our heart. We must be satisfied in God alone, and consider his provisions as tools to serve and glorify him.

“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4.11-13).

This article was originally published here.